Monday, February 28, 2011

Remarks from Peter L. Slavin, MD, MGH president

Given at the Feb. 25, 2011, bicentennial celebration at the State House


Good morning. At the outset, I want to extend my deepest thanks to Senate President Murray for so graciously hosting this celebration to mark the bicentennial of the passage of legislation that established Massachusetts General Hospital. I also want to thank Representative Patricia Haddad, Speaker Pro Tempore for participating in what is truly a remarkable and proud day for the MGH.

Senators DiDomenico, Eldridge, Petruccelli and Tolman have also joined us today, and I want to thank them for being here. I especially want to express my gratitude to them for giving up their official seats for our chiefs.

In addition, I thank Jack Connors, chairman of the Partners board, for his presence and for his help in making this day possible. I would also like to recognize Dr. David Torchiana, chair and CEO of the Mass General Physicians Organization, and Dr. Gary Gottlieb, CEO of Partners HealthCare. It is also wonderful to see so many of our trustees, our chiefs of service and former chiefs as well as other clinical and administrative leaders here today from the MGH, McLean and Partners.

And, of course, President Adams, it’s delightful to see you here as well.

t is fitting that we gather together at the Massachusetts State House. For it was here in this building exactly 200 years ago today that Massachusetts General Hospital was born.

As I look around this august chamber, I can imagine a roomful of men in breeches and powered wigs. I envision a chorus of enthusiastic “Ayes” when came the time to vote on Chapter 94 – titled “An act to incorporate certain persons by the name of Massachusetts General Hospital.” And I envision the then-Senate President Harrison Gray Otis, House Speaker Joseph Story and Massachusetts Governor Elbridge Gerry, brandishing quills and affixing their names to seal the transaction.

These 1811 statesmen could not have foreseen that the institution they launched that day would go on to have a such dramatic impact on so many individuals and their families and on medical practice and progress locally, across the nation and around the world.

Dr. James Jackson and Dr. John Collins Warren, our founders, must have swelled with pride – and breathed a sigh of relief – as the Massachusetts Legislature cleared the pathway for creating a hospital in Boston. Mass General would be only the third hospital in this new nation – following those in Philadelphia and New York.

I would like to pause for a moment here to recognize some of the descendants of Drs. Warren and Jackson who have joined us today. Mary Eliot Jackson, a certified nurse midwife, is a great, great, great granddaughter of Dr. James Jackson. Dr. Shaw Warren, a physician in the MGH Pediatric Infectious Disease Unit, is the great, great, great grandson of Dr. John Collins Warren. And Shaw’s daughter, Cellestine Warren, is our founder’s great, great, great, great granddaughter. I’m so glad that you all could be here.

With ratified act in hand, Drs. Jackson and Warren set out to plan, build and open a facility that would tend to the health needs of the poor, the working class and the most vulnerable individuals who had few options when ill or injured. As Drs. Warren and Jackson had written in an 1810 letter describing the need for a hospital, “The relief to be afforded to the poor, in a country so rich as ours, should perhaps be measured only by their necessities.”

The War of 1812 and other obstacles, however, delayed the best-laid plans of the dedicated founders and the MGH Board of Corporators, who nevertheless continued to meet regularly to create a framework and structure for the hospital-to-come. In fact, it was a full 10 years after the charter was enacted before Massachusetts General Hospital opened its doors to its first patient in September 1821 – a 30-year-old saddler suffering from syphilis.

And the patients have been coming ever since.

The vision of Dr. Warren and Dr. Jackson 200 years ago perseveres today. The knowledge base, the tools, the treatments and the technology have changed dramatically in two centuries, but the commitment to help, heal and offer hope to those in need endures.

Now in 2011, on the 200th birthday of Massachusetts General Hospital, we return to the place where it all began.

In the presence of Senate President Therese Murray, Speaker Pro Tempore Patricia Haddad and other public officials, and speaking for the chiefs of service and hospital leadership assembled here in this chamber and for the thousands of other MGH staff members, I reaffirm to you that Massachusetts General Hospital will continue providing the highest standard of medical care to all those who seek our help. I reaffirm our commitment to pursue knowledge and find answers that will advance medicine. I reaffirm our dedication to educating and providing opportunities for future generations of health care professionals to learn the art and science of medicine and caring. And finally, I reaffirm our promise to the community to welcome, care for and comfort the sick, the poor, the vulnerable, the displaced and the dispirited, whether right here at our doorstep or at some distant place around the globe.

On this bicentennial anniversary, we rededicate ourselves and our institution to this critical mission as we move forward into our third century. Thank you.

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